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Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love
McDermott, Zack
Little, Brown & Co. / Hardcover / 2017-09-01 / 0316315141
reg price: $35.00 our price: $ 31.50 (may be subject to change)
288 pages
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The story of a young man fighting to recover from a devastating psychotic break and the mother who refuses to give up on him

Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. This was it - his big dreams were finally coming true. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he saw was a cue from "The Producer" to help inspire the performance of a lifetime. After a manic spree around Manhattan, Zack, who is bipolar, was arrested on a subway platform and admitted to Bellevue Hospital.

So begins the story of Zack's freefall into psychosis and his desperate, poignant, often darkly funny struggle to claw his way back to sanity, regain his identity, and rebuild some semblance of a stable life. It's a journey that will take him from New York City back to his Kansas roots and to the one person who might be able to save him, his tough, big-hearted Midwestern mother, nicknamed the Bird, whose fierce and steadfast love is the light in Zack's dark world.

Before his odyssey is over, Zack will be tackled by guards in mental wards, run naked through cornfields, receive secret messages from the TV, befriend a former Navy Seal and his talking stuffed monkey, and see the Virgin Mary in the whorls of his own back hair. But with the Bird's help, he just might have a shot at pulling through, starting over, and maybe even meeting a woman who can love him back, bipolar and all.

Written with raw emotional power, humor, and tenderness, GORILLA AND THE BIRD is a bravely honest account of a young man's unraveling and the relationship that saves him.


"A funny, finely observed and surprisingly touching depiction of what it feels like to lose your mind. By allowing us to witness his lowest and most delusional moments, and the slow and tentative process of returning to the world, Zack McDermott provides a gripping portrait of a very real human battle too often ignored and misunderstood. I am better for reading this book."—Sarah Hepola, New York Times bestselling author of Blackout

"Zack McDermott's portrait of a mind under assault from bi-polar illness is both fascinating and heart-breaking to observe, and he takes us into his experience with riveting intensity. But McDermott's real achievement is capturing the moving determination and steadfast love of the mother who saves him, the remarkable Bird who breaks the loneliness, quiets the fear and gives him a home worth returning to. I was so moved by this book and these people."—George Hodgman, New York Times bestselling author of Bettyville

"A startlingly moving memoir of mother and son, structural injustice and inflammable mental illness. Gorilla and the Bird is as piss-cuttin' a pieta as anyone has any right to hope for. And Zack McDermott -- guy's a fleet, funny, unsentimental storyteller who manages that rare thing: He allows a damaged soul be found."—Kent Russell, author of I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son

"A captivating and witty memoir about a young lawyer's gut-wrenching struggle with mental illness and the fierce, protective love of his remarkable mother and dedicated friends, Zack McDermott's Gorilla and the Bird is not only a deeply powerful reminder of our own vulnerability, but a truly inspirational testament to the strength of the human spirit. This book makes accessible experiences that some may wish to ignore but that urgently require our attention, acceptance and empathy."—Elizabeth Ford, M.D., author of Sometimes Amazing Things Happen

"Gorilla and the Bird will make you laugh, cry, and wonder what would happen if we were all brave enough to tell the stories of our relationships with love and madness. I needed this book."—Kiese Laymon, author of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

"A tale of madness, self-destruction, and the stalwart presence of a family...You've got to like a book that opens with a Granny who prays the rosary, digs the Stones, and calls the police 'pigs'... If Granny is a person not to mess with, Grandpa is a whiskey-soaked philosopher, and Bird-well, that would be Zachariah's mom, who is the toughest and most reliable of them all, a rock on whom whole cities could be founded. McDermott's memoir is decidedly offbeat, unfolding like a country song. There's the law, some good jokes, substance abuse, and love lost and found, but there's also a keenly felt sense of justice for the people who can't catch a break in this world, 'the dregs, the castoffs, the addicts'...If the Joads were tanked up on Bud Light and Haldol and Steinbeck were under Hunter S. Thompson's influence, this might be the result-rueful, funny, and utterly authentic."—Kirkus Reviews

"A remarkably written (and lived) memoir about hard beginnings, bad genes, delusions of grandeur, and epic mother love...holds us rapt."—Huffington Post

About the Author:

Zack McDermott has worked as a public defender for The Legal Aid Society of New York. His work has appeared in the New York Times, This American Life, Morning Edition, and Gawker, among other places. He lives in New York and LA.

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